Curses of the covenant

1. After the stipulations of the covenant have been laid out (Deu 12-26), Moses proclaimed the blessings and the curses of the covenant (Deu 27-28). Blessings, if the Israelites adhered to the covenant; curses, if otherwise.

The curses can be on the national level (e.g., 28.25: YHWH will cause you to be defeated before your enemies) and on the personal level.

And one (three?) of the personal curses is (are) as follow: “You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and ravish her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit.” (Deu 28.30) It’s the same triad that we observed in Deu 20.5-9, the three exemptions that one could use to avoid going for war. Perhaps it indicated that v. 30 is still linked with v. 25, where the curse is the defeat in war, such that what occurs in the national level will affect your personal life (obviously). But it could simply signify three most basic aspects of the ancient Israelites’ life, seen from a patriarchal point of view: wife, shelter, and means of living (or, to put it in 3C terms: companionship, condo, and cash).

2. Another curse probably worthwhile to take note is the one in v. 53: “Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you.” (28.53) Well, sadly, it actually happened during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.

(Warning: pretty graphic material.)

There was extreme famine in Jerusalem since the people couldn’t get any food, and they resorted to extreme things as well. “Their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew every thing, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed: the very wisps of old hay became food to some; and some gathered up fibres.” (Josephus, War 6.3.3)

Well, but this is not the end of the story: “But why do I describe the shameless impudence that the famine brought on men in their eating inanimate things, while I am going to relate a matter of fact, the like to which no history relates, either among the Greeks or Barbarians?” (6.3.3)

Indeed, there was a certain woman named Mary (it is the most common name for Palestinian Jews woman at that time), and “it was now become impossible for her any way to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow.” (6.3.4) So, “she then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, ‘O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us. Yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a by-word to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews.’ As soon as she had said this, she slew her son, and then roasted him, and eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed.” (6.3.4)

Then some men came to her house. They wanted to rob whatever food that they thought the owner still had (e.g., grain). But, when they what was left of her son, “those men went out trembling, being never so much aftrighted at any thing as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while every body laid this miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard of action had been done by themselves. So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or to see such miseries.” (6.3.4)


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